Brad Dokken / Forum News Service, Published April 21 2013
Winter-like conditions impact spring pike excursion on Devils LakeOn Devils Lake
The two Canada geese looked almost confused as they stood on the ice and watched us drive by on snowmobile.
The open water they probably were searching for was buried under a foot of snow and another 30 inches of ice. The calendar might have said April, but Devils Lake looked more like February last weekend – with little to suggest conditions were going to change anytime soon.
Sometimes, all you can do is shake your head and roll with it.
The good news for the crew of fishermen and a fisher boy getting his first taste of ice fishing last weekend was the spring pike trip was going on as scheduled for the first time since 2008.
Between spring floods, various commitments and winters that occasionally ended too early, a late-ice excursion that started in 2001 or thereabouts was put on hold for a few years.
It was time to renew the tradition.
Making the best of it on this very un-springlike weekend were Brad Durick and son Braden, 3, and Jason Laumb, Bob Jensen, Jerry Stanislowski and Ken Mattson, all of Grand Forks; I rounded out the crew.
“It’s ridiculous that we’re fishing in total winter conditions in April,” said Durick, who has a cabin on Devils Lake and hosted the pike crew.
So much for spring.
Given the years between pike trips and the fact we had no fresh information to guide us, we opted to “fish memories” and set up in a shallow part of Devils Lake that had produced fish during previous excursions.
Our approach was simple: Drill holes – lots of ‘em – in depths ranging from 1 to 8 feet of water under the ice, set tip-ups and hope a pike or two would cruise by to take the bait and trip the flags.
If a particular depth produced fish, we’d adjust our tip-ups as needed.
Part social occasion and part contact sport – the latter resulting when two or more anglers race to a flag and battle for the right to pull up the fish – tip-up fishing is a perfect way to spend a day on the ice when the temperature is warm enough to withstand being outside.
The temperature last weekend was comfortable, though far from the shirtsleeve conditions we’ve enjoyed some springs.
Durick’s exasperation at the wintry conditions wasn’t lost on the rest of us. Getting around with anything but snowmobiles would have been difficult, and the pickups we saw were confined to a small network of plowed trails.
On the same weekend last year, Devils Lake was mostly free of ice, and boats would have been our only option. Last weekend, a boat would have looked as out of place as the Canada geese searching for open water.
Taking a 3-year-old ice fishing is a bold adventure under the best of circumstances, and the elder Durick wasn’t sure how long the boy would last before tiring of the action, or lack thereof, and demand to go home.
Any concerns were quickly put to rest. It took at least 15 minutes for Braden to drop an ice scoop down the hole – Dad wasn’t quite fast enough to make the save – but a toy shovel, a bag of dead smelt and a 2-year-old black Lab were more than enough to keep him entertained.
That, in turn, kept the rest of us entertained between flags that popped with just enough regularity to keep things interesting.
Braden also made sure the fish didn’t overheat by basting them with snow, which probably explains why the five pike we kept for the grill that night back at the cabin were so tasty.
Leave it to a 3-year-old.
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The beauty of pike fishing is the fish tend to be most active during the midday hours. Good thing, too, because we spent the next morning in the cabin drinking coffee, watching the Sunday morning fishing shows on TV and swapping stories about previous excursions.
We were on the ice by the crack of noon.
For whatever reason, the pike were in a funk and not even Braden’s best efforts to check out every hole could entice a fish into striking.
As in the previous day, the boy was good entertainment for the rest of us.
The sun made a brief appearance late in the morning, but by early afternoon, a weather system moving in from the west brought snow that was falling so heavy we couldn’t see shore.
With no relief on the radar and a two-hour drive in front of us, we decided to wave the white flag and concede the day to Mother Nature.
More than the fishing, the crew that converged to catch a few pike and make the best of a winter that won’t quit, will remember the February-like conditions we encountered – and the newest member of the crew.
Judging by his response at daycare the next morning, young Braden will remember it, too.
“The teacher asked Braden if he had fun at the lake,” Brad Durick said later. “His response was, ‘We went fishing on the lake, I scooped the holes, we rode snowmobile to go fishing, we caught pikes’ – all of this while jumping and flapping his arms.”
That pretty much sums it up, alright. And by any standard, that’s the mark of a fishing trip to remember.
Brad Dokken is the outdoors writer for the Grand Forks Herald